Before graduating from the UW Health Information Management and Technology (HIMT) online program, Theresa Balinghasay was hired as a health information specialist at UW Health. Six months later, Theresa would accomplish even more by being promoted to health information management analyst.
“I am incredibly happy to be where I am today,” Theresa said. “My role at UW Health is the best combination of all of my educational studies, and the UW HIMT degree really helped get me here.”
Prior to UW HIMT, Theresa earned her B.A. in psychology from UW-Madison and her M.A. in public health and physical activity from Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg in Germany. During her undergraduate studies, Theresa became invested in public health, which led her to intern at a women’s health organization in Cambodia and contribute research regarding non-communicable diseases as an intern for the World Health Organization’s Sri Lanka office. After earning her M.A., Theresa worked one year as an AmeriCorps Member and then took on a part-time research role at Marshfield Clinic.
“While I was at Marshfield Clinic, I gained experience working with the electronic health record (EHR), and I started mulling over the idea that I liked working with data and wanted to create change at a more widespread level, but I wasn’t sure where I could combine both of those goals,” Theresa said. “I realized that the health information management space fit that drive in me, all while leaning on my psychology and public health degrees to help me make the EHR more efficient.”
With a wealth of management skills from her previous degrees, Theresa decided her next step was to focus on growing her technical knowledge in order to stay competitive in the healthcare industry. She started looking for an online computer science degree. However, during her search, a close friend recommended UW HIMT, and Theresa was drawn to the program’s specific healthcare technology focus. She applied, was accepted, and got to work.
Putting Her Degree to Work
The UW HIMT program allows students to choose a specialized track: health information management (HIM), health information technology (HIT), or both. Theresa opted for the HIT route because she wanted to gain working knowledge of databases and programming languages.
“I absolutely loved taking the HIT track,” Theresa said. “Having a program focused on technology really helped me round out my skills. The fact that I can put my learned knowledge of SQL and Python on my resume is such a game changer. And, it actually plays a lot into my day-to-day work responsibilities, too. I complete a lot of small programming workflows, and that is one way I use my UW HIMT degree every day.”
As a health information management analyst, Theresa looks at document imaging-related workflows to prepare for incoming needs and to ensure that information is placed in the EHR accurately. Various documentation is sent to Theresa and her team members from both internal and external clinics, and then they are tasked with appropriately indexing and recording the information. Theresa loves working on the back end, promoting health for all people, and that her role has a system-level impact.
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When she thinks about the courses that have prepared her most for her role, Theresa is quick to give credit to HIMT 355: Principles of Management for HIMT Professionals and HIMT 345: Programming and Software Development. She still has the HIMT 355 textbooks and refers to them when building out databases. That particular course, according to Theresa, “has paid for itself tenfold!”
The final capstone course of the UW HIMT program requires students to find an internship or worksite where they can set up a semester-long project and gain hands-on experience. This presented a unique opportunity for Theresa, because she was hired by UW Health before she graduated.
“I ended up completing my capstone for UW Health in my newly hired role,” Theresa said. “I talked with my supervisor and we worked out a way for me to complete a work-related capstone project concurrently with my training. That gave me a leg up to be interviewed for my current analyst position, because I proved that I could take on the extra responsibility—it was a win-win situation.”
Finding Connections Near and Far
Theresa describes herself as self-oriented and organized, so she knew she could stay on track while in the 100% online UW HIMT program. She held herself accountable when completing readings and assignments, but when she switched from working part time at the Marshfield Clinic to full time at UW Health, she had to step it up a notch. On top of starting a new job and finishing up her degree, she was also planning a wedding.
“It was really a matter of prioritization,” Theresa said. “Weekends were usually the only time I could hunker down and get everything done. I was inspired by my classmates who had families, full-time jobs, and so many other things going on. I figured, if they could do it, so could I.”
When she needed guidance, Theresa knew she could count on the support of her Student Success Coach. Every time she emailed or called, her coach was able to answer questions and work with her needs. Theresa also relied on her home campus student advisor and professor in the School of Healthcare Professions at UW-Stevens Point, Dan McCarty—who coincidentally started the nonprofit that she worked at during her AmeriCorps year.
“Every time Dan and I talked, it was more like connecting with a colleague,” Theresa said. “It was so helpful to have known him from before the program and to have him offer advice and guidance as I worked toward my degree.”
Thanks to the support Theresa received throughout the program and her hard work and dedication, she was promoted to a new role within six months of being hired at UW Health, an accomplishment she thought would take much longer. Next, she plans to learn as much as possible from her team members and really grow as a subject matter expert within the HIMT space.
Looking back at her time in UW HIMT, Theresa has a few pieces of advice for prospective students:
“Use the resources available for you while in UW HIMT!” she said. “Right away, I was connected with a Student Success Coach, an advisor, and a team of faculty members who were immediately receptive to any emails that I sent their way. Even though you may feel distant physically, know that you have resources right in your hands and people who want to support you and see you succeed.”
Would you like to explore UW HIMT, a degree that prepares you for the growing field of health information? Download a degree guide to learn more or contact an enrollment adviser at 1-877-UW-LEARN (895-3276) or firstname.lastname@example.org.